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OT Lesson 9 Study Notes: Abraham 1; Genesis 15-17, 21-22

Posted by Jim F. on February 24, 2010

I repeat the reminder: these are notes for study rather than notes for a lesson. Of course study notes can help one prepare a lesson, but my intention is less to help teachers prepare lessons (though I have no objection whatever to them finding my notes useful for that purpose, if they do) than it is to help class members prepare to participate in the lessons taught. Those who use these notes should feel free to add to them with their own comments and observations—and, of course, corrections.

Because there is so much material to cover I’m going to abbreviate some of what I do. I’ll feel guilty about skipping over Abraham 1 and try to get it into these notes the next time around. I’ll deal with Genesis 15-17 and 21 relatively briefly and then concentrate on Genesis 22. As you can well imagine, the scholarly literature on Genesis 22 is enormous, thousands and thousands of pages. I don’t pretend even to have dipped into that literature. At the most I’ve wetted the tip of my finger, so I cannot pretend to do justice to the chapters assigned.

Genesis 15

The chapter begins with Abram’s complaint to the Lord: You’ve not provided me with an heir, so my servant will inherit my estate. The Lord responds with a promise that Abram will have an heir and that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars. The Lord promises Abram that he will inherit Canaan, and Abram asks how he will know that he will. In response the Lord makes a covenant with him: Abram is to offer unique animal sacrifices (they are not put on an altar and burned) and the Lord appears to him in a vision, promising that his descendants will inherit Canaan, though they will spend time in exile in Egypt. After the vision a pot filled with fire appears, passing between the pieces of the offerings, and the Lord covenants that Abram’s descendants will inherit Canaan.

The victories of chapter 14 are not what Abram wants. When the Lord promises to be his shield and to reward him (presumably in battle), Abram responds that no reward can compensate for the fact that he has no heir.

As I mentioned in the notes on Lesson 8, Genesis 15:6 is important as a proof text in Romans and, therefore, also for many Christians: Abram’s faith / reliance on the Lord / trust in the Lord was reckoned to him as obedience to the law / righteousness / moral conduct. As we see in Ezekiel 18:5, righteousness is a matter of doing what is right. As we see in Deuteronomy 25:1, a righteous person is one who should be acquitted. We see the same concept used in speaking of the judgment of God in Psalms 1:6 and 75:11. How would you explain this verse—and Paul’s explication of it (Romans 3:10-4:22)—in LDS terms?

The Hebrew for “made” in verse 18 is literally “cut.” What is the connection between that and Abram’s sacrifice, and why is cutting central to covenant making? When two people covenanted with each other in ancient Near Eastern custom the meaning seems to have been “If I don’t fulfill the covenant I am making with you, may God cut me as I have cut these animals.” But it cannot mean that here, where the Lord himself makes the covenant. Then what does it mean?

What might the animals that have been laid out mean? What might the pot of fire represent?

Genesis 16

Sarai offers her handmaiden, Hagar, to Abram as a second wife, and she conceives. When Hagar has conceived she begins to look down on Sarai. Sarai complains to Abram, who tells her to do what she thinks is good, even though she is now his wife and no longer Sarai’s servant. Sarai deals harshly with Hagar, who runs away. An angel meets Hagar at a spring in the wilderness and tells her return to Sarai and submit to her authority, but he promises that her descendants will be innumerable. He also gives the child a name, Ishmael, and says that he will be wild.” Then Ishmael is born.

Sarai says she hopes that she will obtain a child through Hagar (verse 2), but verse 16 says that Hagar “bare Ishmael to Abram.” Is the writer telling us something by that difference? Given the social norms of Abram’s day, how should we understand what the narrator is saying when he says “And Abram hearkened to [i.e., obeyed] his wife”? Is it significant that the only other place this phrase occurs in Genesis is in 3:17? If so, does the usual LDS reading of what happened in the Garden suggest a positive reading also of this verse (Genesis 16:3)?

The word translated “submit” in 16:9 is from the same root as “humiliate” (the word used in 16:6).

Does verse 13 suggest that rather than just an angel Hagar has seen the Lord? Do Jeremiah 2:24 and Hosea 8:9 help us understand what this prophecy about Ishmael (16:12) means?

“Beer-lahai-roi” means “well of the Living One who sees me.” What is the significance of the name that Hagar gives the well?

Genesis 17

The Lord appears to Abram and covenants with him: “Walk before me and be thou perfect. And I will . . . multiply thee exceedingly” (17:2). The Lord changes Abram’s name to Abraham. The covenant that he will be the father of nations and kings will be everlasting, both to Abraham and to his descendants, and it requires that they be circumcised. The Lord changes Sarai’s name to Sarah and gives her a blessing like Abraham’s: she shall be the mother of nations and kings. The Lord promises Abraham a son through Sarah, and Abraham laughs at the idea, thinking it impossible. The Lord promises to bless Ishmael, as he had promised Hagar, to be a fruitful nation, but the covenant with the Lord will be with Isaac. Abraham circumcises all the males in his household.

Gordon Wenham notes that after the covenant and the Lord’s speech on making the covenant, “divine speeches become rarer and little new content is added to the promises, but the fulfillment of these promises becomes more visible” (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 2: Genesis 16-50, page 16). Why do you think that is the case? Does it suggest anything about the fact that there appear to be differences between the number of direct visions that Joseph Smith had and the number that contemporary prophets have?

Genesis 9:14-16 tells us that the rainbow was a reminder to the Lord that he would not forget his covenant with Noah. Is circumcision also such a reminder to the Lord, a reminder of his covenant with Abraham and his descendants? Most societies that practice male circumcision perform that circumcision when boys reach puberty or immediately before marriage. Why do you think that Lord has Israel do circumcision at birth? Are there symbolic reasons as well as reasons such as lessening the memory of pain? Why is it that Abraham’s descendants may break the covenant, but God will not (Judges 2:1)? In context, how do you explain Abraham’s petition: “O that Ishmael might live before thee!” (17:18)? What do you make of the fact that Sarah receives the same blessing as did Abraham? There appears to be a chiasmus in verses 19-21:

A Sarah will bear a son, Isaac (verse 19a)
B The Lord will establish his covenant with Isaac (verse 19b)
C Ishmael and his descendants will be blessed (verse 20)
B’ The Lord will establish his covenant with Isaac (verse 21a)
A’ Sarah will bear Isaac at this time next year (21b)

What do you make of that chiasmus?

Genesis 21

Sarah gives birth to Isaac and Abraham circumcises him, and they hold a feast when Isaac is weaned. Sarah sees Ishmael mocking (though it is not clear whom, presumably Isaac or perhaps Sarah). She demands that Abraham drive Hagar and Ishmael away, which distresses Abraham considerably. God tells Abraham to listen to Sarah and not to worry. Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael into the wilderness with a supply of bread and water. When the water is gone, she puts Ishmael under a bush assuming that he will die. God hears the boy crying, and the angel of God comforts Hagar, telling her that Ishmael will live and become a great nation. Is Ishmael’s name, “God has heard” (16:11) relevant to the short story we see in 21:14-20? God reveals the location of a water well, and Hagar and Ishmael drink and are saved. God is with Ishmael.

Recognizing that God is with Abraham, Abimelech comes to Abraham asking to make a covenant of peace. Abraham agrees. Then Abraham discovers that Abimelech’s servants have taken some of his wells. Abimelech protests his ignorance, and Abraham gives him sheep and oxen in token of the covenant.

What is the point of saying that God visited Sarah? Compare 1 Samuel 2:21, but see also Exodus 20:5. Why is verse 3 redundant: “the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bore to him”? Has the nature of Sarah’s laughter changed? (Compare 17:17 and 21:6.) What do you make of the sudden change of tone between verse 8 and 9? Why do you suppose the narrator makes such an abrupt shift? What reason does Sarah give for her demand that Ishmael be expelled? Why do you think she avoids using either Hagar’s or Ishmael’s names, but refers to Isaac by name? How does Sarah’s description of Ishmael (21:10) differ from Abraham’s (21:11)? So what? Notice (21:12) that Abraham is concerned not only about Ishmael, as verse 11 could be interpreted, but also about Hagar. Is there a connection between the well of water that Hagar sees and that saves Ishmael and the ram that Abraham sees (chapter 22) and that saves Isaac? What might we be able to learn about our own lives from the story of Abraham, Hagar, and Ishmael?

Beersheba later becomes an important center of Israelite worship, including an early temple. Is this story somehow relevant to that? Usually Abraham builds an altar as a monument to God. Why does he plant a tree in this case? The first of these two stories is clearly relevant to Abraham’s history as the father of Israel, but why is the second included at all? Does it prepare us for the story in Genesis 22 in some way?

Genesis 22

Verse 1: Chapter 22 begins by explicitly referring back to the events of chapter 21: “after these things.” It seems that Moses wants us to understand chapter 22 in relation to chapter 21. As we have seen, Genesis 21 tells of the promised birth of Isaac, and of Ishmael and Hagar being cast out. It also tells of the covenant that Abraham made with Abimelech. The first two of these stories are clearly background to the sacrifice in chapter 22, but are they any more than that? What insight into the story might they give us? The story of this chapter appears to be written in such a way as to remind us of Genesis 12:1. What might that connection teach?

The word Elohim is used in the first sentence of the verse (with a definite article). (Elohim has been named as the divine Agent since Genesis 21:2.) Of what significance is it that he (presumably the Father), and not Jehovah (the Son), poses this test?

Notice the footnote in the LDS edition of the scriptures. In 16th and 17th century English, the language of the King James translation, the word “tempt” meant not only “to allure,” as it does today, but also “to test” or “to try.”

Why would the Lord need to try Abraham? Does Abraham know that this is a test? Consider some other tests in the Old Testament: Exodus 15:25, 16:4, 20:20; Deuteronomy 8: 2, 16; Judges 2:22; 1 Kings 10:1; Daniel 1:12-14. Does seeing what are considered tests (or “proofs”) in those cases help us understand what the Lord means here?

“Behold, here I am” means, literally, “See me here.” In Arabic, even today a person answers a call with something similar—“Ready”—and that is part of the import of this response. In scriptures we find this phrase commonly used when prophets respond to a call. (For other examples of the phrase, see verse eleven of this chapter, Genesis 27:1, 18; 31:11; and 46:2; Exodus 3:4; 1 Samuel 3:4, 5, 6, 8, and 16; Isaiah 6:8; and 2 Nephi 16:8. We also see it in Moses 4:1 and Abraham 3:27, in the calling of the Savior and in Satan’s rebellion.)

Compare what happens here to 1 Samuel 12:3, where we see the same kind of language in another case, and Genesis 3:9-10 and Exodus 20:18-21, where we see cases in which people don’t respond to a call from the Lord in this way. What might be the scriptural import of this response?

Verse 2: The verb translated “take” could also have been translated “please take.” That is rare in a divine command. Why is it part of this command? There is a traditional Jewish story told of this verse: God said, “Take thy son.” Abraham said, “But I have two sons!” God said, “Whom thou lovest,” and Abraham said, “But I love them both.” God said, “Even Isaac.” The writer shortened everything by giving us only God’s words. What problem is this story designed to solve? Are there other answers to that problem? Why is Isaac said to be Abraham’s only son? What about Ishmael?

The Hebrew is emphatic about him being the only son.

Similarly, why is the Savior said to be the Father’s only son? Aren’t we also the children of our Father in Heaven? Does thinking about the question in Abraham’s case help us understand the question in the second case? Why does the Lord add “whom thou lovest”? Is that written for us or for Abraham? If for us, what does it do to help us understand the story? If for Abraham, why does the Lord remind him of his love of Isaac?

Why doesn’t the Lord tell Abraham which mountain he is to go to? Why wait to tell him? We don’t know for sure where the “land of Moriah” was. The temple mount is named Moriah. (See 2 Chronicles 3:1.) Perhaps the region of Moriah contained what would become the temple mount, but we don’t know. Though the Septuagint (a very early translation of the Old Testament into Greek) calls the land “the high land,” the temple mount is more a hill than a mountain. Some have seen a connection between the word “Moriah” and the word “myrrh,” one of the incenses used in the temple. Why would the sacrifice of Isaac be so closely connected with the ancient temple? What connections might it have to the modern temple?

Besides the possible connection between “myrrh” and “Moriah,” some connect the word “Moriah” to the Hebrew word for sight or vision (mr’h). (For example, the Vulgate, an early Latin translation) calls Moriah “the land of vision.”) Does the sacrifice of Isaac have anything to do with vision? Does the ancient temple? Does the modern temple? Still others connect “Moriah” to the Hebrew word for “teaching.” What has that to do with the ancient temple? The modern? It is not uncommon for people to say that they learn a great deal in the temple? What do they mean? About what do they learn?

“Offer him there for a burnt offering”: The Hebrew says, literally, “take him up there for (or ‘as’) a burnt offering.” Though the wording is the wording one would use to tell someone to make a sacrifice, the Hebrew is more ambiguous than the English; it is less obvious in Hebrew that a blood sacrifice is demanded. Some of the ambiguity can be seen in an alternate translation: “Offer him as a burnt offering.” What do we make of this ambiguity?

How does what the Lord commands here compare to what we see recorded in Judges 11:31-40, and 2 Kings 3:27 and 17:17? How would Abraham’s experience (Abraham 1:12) have made him feel about this commandment?

In English, the word “sacrifice” is closely related to “sacrify,” meaning “to make sacred.” We often think of sacrifice as giving something up, but it isn’t necessarily—except that to recognize something as holy is no longer to claim that it belongs to me. In what sense or senses was Isaac sacrificed?

Verse 3: Why does Moses tell us that Abraham rose “early in the morning”? Why doesn’t he tell us anything at all about how Abraham felt or what he was thinking? The events in this verse are out of sequence: Abraham arose, he saddled the ass, he took his servants and Isaac with him, he cut some wood, he rose up, they went to Moriah. The expected sequence would have Abraham cut the wood before saddling up the ass before leaving with the young men and Isaac. Why do you think that Moses has given the events this order? Though we see here that Abraham has at least two servants, and earlier scriptures tell us that he has many servants, Abraham saddles his own ass and cuts the wood for the sacrificial fire himself. Why? Does that tell us anything about Abraham? And, why is that an important part of the story of the sacrifice? Why does Abraham take two servants with him?

Verse 4: In this story we see only three gestures, here and in verses 10 and 13, so I assume that when the gestures are mentioned they are important to the story. Why does it say that Abraham “lifted up his eyes”? (Is the name of the mountain relevant?) Abraham was looking at a mountain, but it was a long way off and, if the tradition is correct about it being the temple mount, it wasn’t much more than a large hill, so it would not have been the physical geography that made him lift up his eyes. What is the writer telling us? Is there any significance to the fact that the trip takes three days? If so, what is it? (Compare Genesis 31:22, 40:20, and 42:18.) Given that the trip took three days, why don’t we see even one detail regarding it? Are there any parallels to this that might be instructive? Does this detail tell us anything about Abraham or about the sacrifice itself?

Verse 5: Why does Abraham not want the servants to accompany him? Is the fact that Moses went up Mount Sinai alone relevant? (See Exodus 19 and 24.) Though not as explicit in English as in Hebrew, notice that Abraham unwittingly prophesies what will come: “I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.” He tells them “we will come again to you.” What is the point of this unintentional prophecy? In other words, what is it supposed to tell us, as readers? The word translated “worship” means literally “to bow low.” This is a much weaker term than “make an offering.” Is Abraham weakening in his resolve? Why does he describe what will happen with that term? There are at least four ways that a person who didn’t already know the story could understand what Abraham is doing: he could be deceiving them about his real purposes so that they would not interfere with him; he could be understood not to be deceiving anyone, but to not plan to kill Isaac; we could read him as affirming his faith: “I don’t know how this is going to work out, but I know that God will not make me annihilate Isaac, the child through whom God has promised that my blessings will come. So I know that we both will return.” (I have taken these four ways, loosely, from Søren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling.) Given the story as Moses has written it, which do you think is the best interpretation? In any case, what has bowing low to do with worship? What does bowing symbolize? Are there scriptures that indicate that worship involves what bowing symbolizes? How about Mosiah 4? If Mosiah 4 is an appropriate comparison, how does it help us understand this better? How might this help us understand Mosiah four better?

Verse 6: Notice how the writer alternates: details in verse 3, none in verses 4 and 5, and details again in this verse. Why give us details in those places and not between? What purposes do the details serve?

To help you think about the details and what they do, notice that the word translated “knife” could also be translated “cleaver.” It may mean, specifically, a butcher knife. (Compare Judges 19:29, where the same word is used.) How would that different translation change how we read this verse? For more understanding of the impact of that difference in translation, read about what was done with the sacrificial animal—see, for example, Leviticus 1:3-9.

Notice the parallel between Christ carrying his own cross and Isaac carrying the wood for the sacrifice. Why would such a parallel be important to Moses, the writer? Why does the writer, at the end of the verse, make such a point of Abraham and Isaac being together?

Verse 7: Why does the writer repeat the word “father” and then contrast it with the word “son”? What effect does that create? What does that repetition and contrast teach us? Notice that in this story Abraham consistently refers to Isaac as “my son,” rather than by name. Abraham answers his son in the same way he answered the Lord. What might that show? What is Isaac’s reaction to the situation he finds himself in? When do you think Isaac understood what was to happen, now or later, in verse 9? Why? Based on the age of Sarah at her death—which occurs immediately after this story—tradition has it that Isaac was thirty to thirty-five years old at the time of the sacrifice. If Isaac was older, perhaps even as old as 30 or 35, how would that change our understanding of the story?

In verse 12 Isaac is called a n’r, which is translated “babe” in Exodus 2:6 and “young man” in 2 Samuel 14:21, so the Hebrew word doesn’t help answer the question.

Verse 8: “God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering”: Like most prophecy and much scripture, there are several levels at which this phrase can be understood. Among them are:

1. Like his comment in verse 5, it could suggest that Abraham is deceiving his son (though, unlike verse 5, if we read it in that way, there is no suggestion that Abraham is going to disobey the commandment).

2. It can mean what Isaac (correctly) thinks it means, that the Lord will provide a lamb they can use.

3. It can mean what Abraham thinks it means, that Isaac—provided by God in the matter of his birth, and now (Abraham thinks) provided by God in the matter of his death—will be the sacrifice.

4. It can be Abraham’s unknowing prophecy of what we read later (verse 13).

5. It can be a prophecy of the Atonement, provided by the Father for the redemption of all mankind.

Which of these possibilities help us think about the meaning of Abraham’s sacrifice? How do they help us understand Christ? How do they help us understand our own lives? This verse, like verse 6, ends with “they went both of them together.” Verse 6 listed the implements of the sacrifice, then ended with this phrase. Verse 7 takes up the question of the victim of the sacrifice. Then verse 8 takes up the answer to that question, ending with the phrase, “they went both of them together.” The parallels are so deliberate that they cannot be coincidence. What is going on here? The phrase “God will provide” is the turning point of this story. Could it also be something like a thesis statement for the story? How is that phrase a response to the test that Abraham has been given?

Verse 9: We saw absolutely no details of the journey, why does the writer give us details when they get to the mountain?

The traditional Hebrew name for this event is the akedah, meaning “the binding,” rather than “Abraham’s sacrifice” or some other variation that we use. Why was the binding of Isaac so important to the Jews that the whole event could be named after it? What kinds of things can “binding” mean? Do those meanings have anything to do with the ancient temple? With the modern temple? Compare and contrast the different things that these different names for the story tell us.

Verse 10:

The word “slay” translates a Hebrew word that could also be translated “slaughter.” In most cases, it means “to kill in a ritual manner.” (The same word is used in Leviticus 1:5 and 6:25.) Why is it important that the writer use that word here?

Here the second gesture of the story appears: “Abraham stretched forth his hand.” (The first was when Abraham lifted his eyes in verse 4.) What does that gesture show us? Does this gesture say something about Abraham’s attitude? Notice that this verse and verse 9 use very short phrases: “came to the place,” “laid the wood in order,” “bound Isaac,” “laid him on the altar,” “stretched forth his hand,” “took the knife to slay his son.” What is the effect of this staccato pattern?

Verse 11: In verse 1, God gave Abraham the commandment, but in this verse the commandment not to sacrifice Isaac is delivered by an angel, the angel of Jehovah. What might Abraham’s reaction have been? What kinds of things does this show us? Why is the original commandment given by the Father, but the reversal of that commandment given by an angel of the Son? Why does the angel call Abraham’s name twice? In verse 1, the Lord called him only once. What might the repetition show?

Verse 12: Why does the angel repeat the injunction not to hurt Isaac? What does it mean to fear God? Does this story help us understand that by showing us? Do we see any evidence of what we might mean by “fear” in this story? Why do you think English uses the word “fear” for this attitude of awe and respect before God? What does it mean to say that Abraham hasn’t withheld his son from Jehovah?

Verse 13: Here the third gesture occurs, and it is the same gesture as the first one: “Abraham lifted up his eyes.” What does lifting his eyes indicate? Does the parallel to verse 4 help us understand either one of these better? The ram, of course, is the traditional burnt offering. (See Leviticus 1:10-13.) There is an obvious textual difficulty here: Abraham looks up and sees the ram behind him. That seems impossible. But scholars have suggested that perhaps copyists have made a mistake and written a Hebrew word for “behind” when they were reading a very similarly written Hebrew word for “solitary.” If we accept that emendation of the text, what is the point of writing “a solitary ram” rather than just “a ram”? The Joseph Smith Translation deals with the problem by putting the ram behind the thicket: “Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind a thicket, there was a ram” (JST Genesis 22:16).

Verse 14:

Notice that there is a double entendre in the name, Jehovah-jireh: The Hebrew phrase means literally “The Lord will see” but that can be understood to mean “the Lord will provide.”

What is it the Lord has seen? What is it he has provided? (See verse 8.) You might want to do some brainstorming on this one to go beyond the obvious answers—Abraham’s obedience and a ram. Remember the connection to the temple and the atonement. “Mount of the Lord” is a phrase often used in the Old Testament to refer the temple, whether on a mountain or not. Another translation of the sentence that explains the name Abraham gave the place is, “The Lord will be revealed in a mount (i.e., a temple).” (This is probably a more accurate translation than the translation given by the King James translators.) Moses tells us that people say this because of the sacrifice of Isaac and the name Abraham gave to the place of that sacrifice. Ancient Israel offered sacrifice in its temples, so the connection of this story to their temples was more obvious. (You might want to read about sacrifice in the Bible Dictionary in your scriptures.) But it might pay to think about, though not to discuss, the connection between the sacrifice of Isaac and the temple. What has this story to do with temple work? What has it to do with the seeing the Lord in the temple? How do is the Lord revealed in the temple? What do we learn of sacrifice here? In the temple?

Verse 15: Why is the angel’s message divided into two parts? Does the division help us focus on particular aspects of each part? Is there a difference in the messages?

Verse 16: What is the significance of the Lord saying “By myself have I sworn” (italics added)? (Compare Jeremiah 22:5 and 49:13, and Amos 4:2 and 6:8.) One medieval Jewish commentator (Nachmanides) suggests that in the phrase, “By myself have I sworn,” we see the Lord making Abraham’s calling and election sure. (Obviously, I’m using our terminology for his concepts, not his terminology.) So what? How is that relevant to us? Notice the emphasis put on Abraham’s not having withheld his only son. Why that emphasis? What does Abraham not withholding his son show? The blessing that follows in verses 17 and 18—already given once before (Genesis 12:2-3 and 13:14-16)—is said to be “because thou hast done this thing.” If it has already been given, how can it be the result of this test?

Verses 17-18: Why does the Lord say, “in blessing, I will bless thee”? What do you think the repetition of a word for blessing does for our understanding? Abraham has already received this blessing. Why repeat it? Or is this version different in some way? Why is this blessing such a desirable blessing? Why is it a blessing to have innumerable posterity? Hebrews 6:14 quotes the blessing of verse 17. Does that quotation help us understand something of what this story teaches from a Christian point of view? What does it mean to say that Abraham’s seed will possess the gates of their enemies? Who are their enemies? What are the enemies gates? What does it mean to say that all the nations of the earth will be blessed in Abraham’s seed? Compare Abraham 2:9-11 to see more clearly who Abraham’s children are. Does the end of verse 18 perhaps give us a better idea of what the Lord meant by “this thing” in verse 16?

Verse 19: The Lord has spoken to Abraham and renewed the covenant. However, we don’t see Abraham respond or Isaac be released, Isaac isn’t mentioned again in the story, and Abraham just goes back to his servants and goes with them to Beersheba. Why? At the end of chapter 21 (verse 34) we are told that Abraham lived in Hebron (the land of the Philistines). Now we are told he dwelt in Beer-sheba. Has he moved? If so, why? How would the sacrifice cause Abraham to move to a new location?

Verses 20-23: Here, within a message given to Abraham, we see Milcah’s sons. Why is this message important to Abraham as part of the story of his test? When the Bible was divided into chapters and verses, the editors could have put these verses into the next chapter, as its beginning. Do you have any ideas as to why they would think it belongs in this chapter? Why is this genealogy inserted here, between the story of the sacrifice and the account of Sarah’s death? Rebekah’s birth seems to be the point of the genealogy. How is that relevant to what we have just seen?

Verse 24: In contrast to verses 20-23, this list of Reumah’s sons is not something that was said to Abraham, but a comment made by the writer. Why does he think he needs this comment, and why has it been included here rather than at the beginning of the next chapter? Of course, the chapters and verses we see were not part of the original text. But there is a natural division at Genesis 23:1. We could ask the question in this way instead: why does this genealogical list come before rather than after that natural break?

22 Responses to “OT Lesson 9 Study Notes: Abraham 1; Genesis 15-17, 21-22”

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  2. kirkcaudle said

    It’s amazing Genesis 22 can be in a lesson with four other chapters.

    • Jim F. said

      Yes, I wish we could slow down and look more carefully at the things we read. From what I see in my classes at BYU is that the result of not doing so is a kind of scriptural illiteracy: students know the scriptural stories and they know what those stories are “supposed” to teach them, but they don’t know how to read the scriptures in a way that continues to give them insight. Some figure that out on their own, but many do not.

      • kirkcaudle said

        The problem with Sunday School is that we only have one year to get through the entire Old Testament. This is not news to any of us of course, but it is a problem, imo.

        What would you think about spending 2 years on the Old Testament in Sunday School? Afterall, the Old Testament is half the size of the entire standard works! Do you think that would make us less “illiterate” when it came to the scriptures?

        In fact, I think one could make the case of spending two years on each of the standard works!

  3. […] Here are Jim F's study notes for Lesson 9 – Lots of deep probing questions to ponder… __________________ Rameumptom: A Holy Stand or Podium, where I can pontificate to my heart's delight. rameumptom.weebly.com […]

  4. Robert C. said

    Kirk, as a practical matter, I’ve had success focusing in on one or two verses when I teach lessons. I usually summarize the context of the particular verse, and often pick a verse that could be argued to be a kind of centerpiece of the assigned readings—this way I am able to appease those who might worry that we’re not covering enough of the assigned lesson material, but then we’re able to really dig in to the scriptures and learn from them, without just glossing or proof-texting.

    I think quality time with the scriptures is much like spending quality time with others: quantity of time cannot make up for poor quality. Applied to teaching, then, this idea has directed me toward a less-is-more approach, really working through only a verse or two, or even less, but really giving those passages quality time….

    • RobF said

      Amen. I’ve often only gotten through just a verse or two while leading a class discussion. Perhaps by modeling a careful and thoughtful reading of just a verse or two, we can encourage class participants to spend more time with the scriptures themselves. Class wouldn’t be about giving them what the chapters mean, but a way to model how to, as Jim said, “read the scriptures in a way that continues to give them insight.”

  5. kirkcaudle said

    Robert, I agree, and I do the same thing. There are times when I literally read a verse or two and see where the text takes us. The right question(s) can lead to great discussions and insights.

    With that said, I would like less verses/chapters to pick from. I know I am going to have to omit 90% of the lesson; I would just like 50% less to omit.

    As a practical matter I know this will never happen. I just get greedy when there is so much good stuff to talk about!

  6. Viliam said

    One of our readers recommended this blog post:…

    In Arabic, even today a person answers a call with something similar—“Ready”—and that is part of the import of this response. In scriptures we find this phrase commonly used when prophets respond to a call. ….. At the end of chapter 21 ( verse 34) we…

  7. Eunice Robertson said

    In our class we also noted that Isaac was the same age that our Saviour was when he was crucified, and that the journey to the place of sacrifice was three days, the same period of time that our Saviour was in the grave.We noted also the parallel between Heavenly Father having to sacrifice our Saviour and Abraham being tested in the same way.

  8. RobF said

    While I was sitting in this class last week, I was struck that we always read this story as being about Abraham. What if we read it as being more about Isaac? About Abraham and the Lord staging a sacred sacrificial ritual so that Isaac could have the experience of being saved (“snatched” like Alma?), just as Abraham had been saved from the Lion Couch scene in Facsimile 1? Like Lehi is later snatched out of a perilous Jerusalem? Like we can be snatched from being in Satan’s power?

    • Jim F. said

      I agree that there is a great deal to learn by asking about Isaac’s role in the sacrifice. In the end, this is a story about the nation of Israel and not just about Abraham, so it must also be about Isaac. But there is that first verse of chapter 22, announcing that this story is about Abraham’s test.

      • RobF said

        In the first verse we are told that the Lord tempted (nacah) Abraham. Are we sure we know what tempting means in this case? Does this statement really mean that “this story is about Abraham’s test”? I’m also wondering how much slippage there might be between what the author of this story is telling us hundreds of years later, and what may have really happened on that mount. Can we be true to the text and still see a bigger divine purpose in this event than just a test of Abraham?

  9. kirkcaudle said

    Rob, I read the story somewhere along those lines. In fact, I think somehow the story is about the “sanctification” of Issac.

  10. Jim F. said

    RobF, do we have any access to what really happened at Moriah other than what the author of the text wrote (and, of course, what may be revealed by prophets at other times)?

    Isn’t the best translation of nasah “to test, to try, to prove, to assay”? (Brown-Driver-Briggs gives that definition.) Verses 1-2 seem to me to pretty clearly say “God tested Abraham by commanding him to sacrifice his son, Isaac.” Then the story of that sacrifice follows. But of course that doesn’t say that the story is only about Abraham’s test.

    Given Isaac’s probable age, it had to be a test of him as well. He had to go along with what his father was doing, willingly allowing himself to be tied up, for example. (There’s a Jewish midrash that says Isaac asked to be tied up so that, at the last minute, he wouldn’t flinch and ruin the sacrifice.)

    Given the way that (via the angel’s repetition of the Abrahamic blessing) the story immediately shifts to the family after the sacrifice, I assume that it is also about the birth of Rebekah. (Notice that “after these things” [verse 20], the first thing that happens is that Abraham is told about the birth of Nahor’s children, which include Rebekah.)

    For anyone with the philosophical disease, I’ve written about this connection to the family in “The Past and Future Community: Abraham and Isaac; Sarah and Rebekah, . . . .” Levinas Studies: An Annual Review, vol. 3 (2008), 79-100.

  11. kirkcaudle said

    Thanks for the link to your article Jim.

  12. RobF said

    Jim, I’m not disputing that the Lord “tested” Abraham, as the text indicates. I’m just wondering why we have to think that the test is what the story is really about (ie. the theme or main point of the story). I know we traditionally read it that way, but wonder what we might be missing by focusing on the presumption that that is what the story is really all about.

    • Jim F. said

      I agree that the story can’t be only about Abraham and his test. I hope I made that clear. Another way to see that the story must be about more is to look at the parallels to Hagar and Ishmael and to wonder what is going on. I don’t think those parallels are just coincidence.

  13. kirkcaudle said

    For those that follow the Hebrew Bible the story is called The Akedah, or “The Binding.” Christians call this narrative the story of Abraham sacrificing Issac, or God testing Abraham. Therefore, One title focuses on Issac being bound to the Alter, while the other focuses the obedience of Abraham.

    Why does this matter?

    I think the way we read the Biblical stories is influenced by the title of the story. We can go into a story with preconceived notions just because of what a story is called. I think this is sometimes the case with Gen. 22. The title shifts our focus.

    • Jim F. said

      Good point, Kirk. If we think of what happens at Moriah as “the binding of Isaac,” we see it differently.

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